The Dirt on Wine
Wine as we know it is a medium in constant flux. Even with all the history and mystery, rules and regulations, appellations and styles, it remains a world that is constantly changing. The fascination which we hold with wine is its' unique ability to make us feel connected to the history of man and our travels and experiences in an ever changing world. Science tells us that taste triggers a part of your memory that brings you back to a very specific, photographic image. In this light, wine can be viewed as a medium through which to view and remember your own adult life. The metaphors are endlessly poignant and amusing, but it is often only through comparison that one can accurately describe the affect that people, sensory stimulation and time and place can have on one's brain.
It is in this spirit that we decided to start COR Cellars. To connect to man's history, to be a steward of our landscape and to make a product which will hopefully stimulate all the wonderful metaphors that are left up to the drinker to conjure up in their minds and hopefully remember.
Vitis vinifera (wine grapes) originally hail from Persia, somewhere between the Black and Caspian Seas. The first wine was undoubtedly made by mistake by leaving a bunch of thrown away grapes or grape juice out to ferment naturally and when discovered, drank to such a noticeable result that it was reproduced.
Wine grapes migrated in all directions with traveling armies and colonists who wanted to bring the fruits of home to far off lands. The oldest recorded history of this is from the Phoenicians and Greeks who colonized the Mediterranean. Over time, different varieties became interbred and created the world of varieties that we now use and consider ancient. In this way, wine has always been very connected to our movements and behaviors and we have coexisted and coevolved with each other.
As the grape spread with humanity, it took on many different personalities, representing both the climate and geography it was planted in and the human element associated with cultivation. What the French call terroir; the soil - is in fact the entire natural environment where the wines are grown, made and cellared. This is the single most important factor in quality and character. Grapes are simply vines that are trying to produce fruit and thus reproduce. It is our actions to cultivate it, harvest it, ferment it and ultimately bottle it in our own specific way, added with the natural environment of the grape, which give the full picture of wine individuality.
All wines are made a little differently, with each grape, winemaking style and region guiding it in a certain direction. Even though each is different, the constant factor in all winemaking is to preserve as much of the character of the fruit as possible. The ultimate aim is to put a wine in the glass that tastes, smells and evokes images of the vineyard where it was grown. Essentially we do not MAKE wine, we create a comfortable and clean environment in which to allow the grapes and yeast to do their thing and become wine.
The general procedure at COR is as follows:
Following harvest, the grapes are de-stemmed and dropped into fermentation tanks and treated with a bit of sulfur dioxide, which inhibits spoilage microorganisms. Yeast culture and necessary nutrients for complete fermentation are added and the must (unfermented grape juice and skins) begins to ferment away rapidly. The fermentation creates carbon dioxide bubbles, which, after a day or two, begin to form a "cap" of grape skins in the fermentation tank. It is critical to keep the cap immersed in the liquid, for many reasons. First of all is to keep the fermentation fed with oxygen, as the yeast require oxygen to reproduce and do their job. Another reason is to extract the color from the skins and completely ferment all the sugar from the grape. Temperature and density (the must decreases in density as sugar converts to alcohol) are monitored daily and when the must has finished fermenting it is loaded into the press.
Pressing is accomplished over many cycles to gently push the wine from the skins without extracting the harsh tannins that occur if pressed too hard or too quickly. The wine is pumped into a settling tank for a day or two before being racked (transferred) into oak barrels. Once in barrel, the wine goes through a "secondary fermentation." This is called malolactic fermentation and involves the conversion of malic acid (green apple taste) to lactic acid (milk, cream taste.) Although a natural phenomenon, we add malolactic culture to ensure that the secondary fermentation occurs without a hitch.
When malolactic fermentation is complete, the wine is racked into a tank, sulfur dioxide is added again to protect the finished wine from oxidation and then is racked back into clean barrels. From here until bottling, the wine may be racked another 1-3 times in order to help clarify and usher it along.
A few months before bottling, all wines are tasted and evaluated for quality, and the separate wines are blended individually to create the final wines for bottling. Following a light filtration for clarification, we bottle the wines using a semi automated/semi Henry Ford style bottling line.
Following harvest, the grapes are loaded as whole clusters straight into the press. We press gently and painstakingly to extract only the best juice, and leave behind any harsh tannins or excessive color from the skins and seeds. The must is pumped into a settling tank for a day and then transferred to either a fresh tank or into oak barrels for fermentation.
Yeast culture and necessary nutrients for complete fermentation are added and the must begins to proceed through fermentation. Temperature and density are monitored daily and when the wine is dry (all sugars converted to alcohol) it is racked to a fresh tank or barrels. At this point sulfur dioxide is added to protect against oxidation and spoilage bacteria and microorganisms. The wine stays in tank or barrel for 4-5 months, before sterile filtration to clarify and remove all yeast and bacteria and then bottled.